Stop me if this sounds familiar: A young boy and his parents leave the theatre late at night and take an ill-advised shortcut down a dingy alleyway. Disaster strikes when they get robbed by a desperate armed man and the boy sees his parents gunned down before him. The police arrive, the bodies are taken away. The boy looks up...and sees the giant face of Open Window Man outside the boundaries of the flat, chalk drawn world that he inhabits. 'Please?' he asks. 'Help me?'
So begins the latest issue (#13) of China Mieville and Alberto Ponticelli's 'Dial H' (art duties having previously been carried out by Mateus Santolouco). The story continues with Open Window Man, who has the ability to travel between any two open windows at will and is basically Batman, if instead of a bat flying into his room, the window had just blown open, schooling the young chalk drawn boy in the ways of the hero whilst his companions, 'The Dial Bunch' attempt to find a way to follow their nemesis back to his home universe. Pretty simple right?
Maybe I should back up a little...
In issue 1 (launched as part of DC's second wave of New 52 titles), we meet Nelson Jent, an overweight smoker whose roommate has found himself in trouble with some unsavoury types. Whilst attempting to call the police during a brutal attack on said roommate in the alley next to their apartment building, Nelson is mysteriously transformed into the hero known as 'Boy Chimney', the embodiment of urban pollution. You see the phone booth contains an H Dial, allowing the user to 'dial' a random set of superpowers for a limited period of time. Nelson finds himself an unwilling superhero, teamed with the mysterious 'Manteau' (a fellow dialler) and locked in battle against the misguided 'Ex Nihilo', the otherworldly 'Squid' and the forces of the void. Then things start to get weird and Nelson begins a bizarre journey around the world and through other realities, all informed by the secret history of telephony and the machinations of the 'Shadow on the Line'.
I really can't recommend this series enough. Not only is it the most consistently creative and original (despite being loosely based on an old 60s series) superhero comic on the shelves right now, it gives most indie comics a run for their money too. Mieville is a superb writer whose prose work is definitely worth a look (start with 'Perdido Street Station', it's heavy going but incredibly rewarding) and he has made the transition to comics look easy. The artwork for the series is dark and moody and perfectly captures the insane and unusual look of the myriad heroes dialled by Jent. If you know me I've probably rambled on at you before about just how great it is and why you should definitely read it, right now, no matter what.